NS_portraitAlexandra Chronaki: Floating and Sinking. In which way do these two notions appear in psychoanalysis? Do they refer to psychopathology or to the process of psychoanalysis as well?

Nikos Sideris: Floating and sinking are subjective experiences corresponding to vestibular sensations, illusions or hallucinations. They may typically occur in conditions of hypnosis, hypnagogic states (when falling asleep), relaxation and yoga exercises, meditation, drug-induced states or psychopathology of organic (febrile, toxic …) or functional origin.

Typically, they do not occur isolated. Normally, they are part of a broader complex of experiences corresponding to more or less altered states of consciousness.

As far as the psychoanalytic process per se is concerned, it is highly unlikely to encounter such experiences during a session, because of the preponderance of articulated addressed speech and the effective interaction with the psychoanalyst. Nevertheless, such experiences during the process of free association may occur. Obviously, such mental recollections and verbal reports will be treated as an integral part of the analysand’s discourse, according to the principles defining the psychoanalytic listening, perception, elaboration and interpretation of discourse.

The occurrence of floating and sinking experiences in hypnosis, hypnagogic and hypnopompic states, through relaxation, yoga or meditation practices, as drug or pathological effects, is a clear indication of the regressive mechanisms at work. In metapsychological terms, the core mechanism of floating and sinking is actually regression to archaic patterns of perception and mental elaboration – practically, regression to primeval modes of fantasy formation and experience, integrating sensory information of any kind available.

A particular pattern of experience, known as the Isakower phenomenon, after the Viennese psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who first described it in 1936, reveals the main point of fixation and offers substantial and decisive indications about the psychic chora; this is where floating and sinking experiences are emanating from or, more precisely, this is where regression process stabilizes the psychical functioning during this kind of experience. In his article Beitrag zur Pathopsychologie der Einschlafphaenomene, which appeared in English in 1938 as A contribution to the psychopathology of phenomena associated with falling asleep, Isakower describes a varied set of phenomena that occur in certain hypnagogic states and can possibly be observed “in a number of patients suffering from widely different types of psychological disorders and also in some normal persons” (1). Having examined several clinical cases, Isakower observed: “The most striking of all is the blurring of the distinction between quite different regions of the body, e.g. between mouth and skin, and also between what is internal and what is external, the body and the outside world.